BERLIOZ:  Grand messe du morts
Jean Girardeau, tenor/National Opera Theatre Chorus and Orch/Hermann Scherchen, cond.

REDISCOVERY 005/6 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD) TT:  44:38 & 53:44

Collectors have been waiting a long time for this historic recording to be issued in stereo, and here it is—finally!!  The performance has been issued on CD at least twice before, the latest being on Ades (14.085), but not in stereo.  The reason for this is that when the recording was made in 1958  there were two different companies involved, one recording in stereo, the other mono.  Rights to the stereo version have been denied to companies that wished to issue it in that format; now the pioneering independent new label Rediscovery has taken over.  Presumably these CDs were made from the stereo Sonotape issued more than four decades ago.  Rediscovery's transfer is very good. There is a touch of distortion in  some of the louder choral passages, but it is minimal—and the difference that stereo makes in a work such as this is major.

The recording was made in the church of Saint-Louis-des-Invalides, site of the premiere December 5, 1837.  It is quite amazing that sonically it is so impressive, considering the church's vast expanses and odd shape, and the then relatively new technique of stereophonic recording.  Balances are satisfactory,  spatial effects work, and if the big moments lack the dynamic range and impact of digital, what is there is highly impressive in its own right.  Hermann Scherchen's interpretation is highly individual, leisurely for the most part, but there are moments of great impetus that are thrilling indeed.  Jean Girardeau is the superb tenor soloist, the Paris Opera chorus is skilled, and the orchestra has a sound perfect for the occasion.  French brass, with its distinctive timbre, is exemplary; I don't know of another recording that captures so well the snarling trombones of the final Agnus Dei.

Don't expect much in the way of production values in this set. There is but a single sheet for the cover, no program notes and the CDs themselves have no labels, but are identified with a hand-written "1" and "2."  The  back cover lists movements of the Requiem, but no timings  (they are: 13:23, 12:49; 4:49, 6:56, 6:42, 12:13, 11:12, 4:11, 10:39 and 15:30 for a total of 98:22).  Scherchen's is the longest performance ever recorded,  more than 20 minutes longer than Ormandy, Beecham or Fournet.

Those who love the Requiem surely will wish to have this long-awaited stereo issue—and as well will want to own the remarkable live performance with Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic recorded in Royal Albert Hall December 13, 1959, now available in the BBC Legends series (4011).  Those interested in historic recordings of this music might wish to investigate the 1943 Jean Fournet recording, now available in a fine transfer on Arkadia (78558).

This recording is not available in stores.  To get it, contact this address:

http://www.rediscovery.us

R.E.B. (Oct. 2000)